The short- and long-term effects of head trauma are well-recognized by most leagues and media members these days, to a point where there are strict concussion protocols, independent spotters and neurologists, and detailed return-to-play procedures. Even Concussion feels like well-trodden territory to many, which may help to explain its lackluster box office so far.
In that environment, a “tough it out” take from most media members would be seen as mere contrarianism and attention-grabbing. When that take’s coming from a former player, though, like the one former Patriots’ safety and current ESPN 850 Cleveland radio host Jerod Cherry gave Wednesday, it’s perhaps more indicative of where the concussion awareness battle still hasn’t been won; with current and former players.
— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) December 30, 2015
Cherry’s comments came shortly after the news broke that Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel is undergoing the concussion protocol and will likely miss their final game, and while that would be an easily-lampoonable hot take from most media members, it’s both more understandable and more troubling when it comes from a long-time player. This is a dangerous opinion, especially given everything we know about the risks of second-impact syndrome (getting another concussion while concussed, which has often proven fatal), but there isn’t much question that this is something Cherry truly believes, rather than a position he’s taking just to get attention. He’s far from alone there.
There are plenty of current players who have tried to play through concussions, including the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins and the Rams’ Case Keenum this year alone. That’s in keeping with the overall football (and sports in general) mentality of playing through pain, one that’s often been lauded by everyone from coaches to teammates to media to fans, and one that’s often been essential to athletes keeping their jobs. Persevering through injuries isn’t just about personal toughness or proving a point; it’s often been the difference between hanging on to a roster spot or being replaced.
That’s something that hasn’t changed much even with the rising popular awareness of concussions. While teams have a harder time rushing players proven to be concussed back thanks to league policies, they’re still quite willing to cut players battling concussions, and players are still quite willing to treat a concussion as just another injury and try to push through it to stay on the field. Moreover, that isn’t necessarily because they’re unaware of concussions’ long-term effects; some have heard all the stories and are willing to take the risks anyway to keep their jobs. Thus, while opinions like Cherry’s are disappointing to hear, it’s understandable where they’re coming from. Maybe that will change as more players see films like Concussion and further educate themselves on just what these injuries are and how dangerous they are, but it seems likely there will always be some who feel that playing through concussions is worth it.
The more disappointing thing may be that ESPN Cleveland not only feels this is an okay opinion, but one worth promoting. If Cherry says it on his show, that’s one thing; it’s still a troubling and dangerous opinion, but it’s his opinion. Given his background as a player, it’s an understandable opinion. For a media outlet to single this out as a quote worth promoting on the radio station’s Twitter account is perhaps even more problematic; that’s closer to the contrarian attention-grabbing it would be if a non-former athlete in the media had made comments like Cherry’s. Cherry can think what he wants, but here we see his employer deciding that his views are not only worth airing, but worth promoting on social media.